The dos and don’ts for dealing with an unhappy customer


DO hear from all the parties involved

If you weren’t there and you didn’t witness it, the best way forward is to make the effort to get each person’s side of the story and where possible, verify the information you need against a CCTV camera.

And despite what you think you know or understand about the situation, when speaking to the (angry or unhappy) customer, try to listen without interrupting. Let him or her finish speaking before you respond. This will give the customer time to finish venting – after which he or she will hopefully be calmer and more reasonable – and will also give you the time to assess what the crux of the issue is. Which leads us to the next point…

DO try to understand what can be done to solve it

What is the customer actually trying to say? And what is he or she actually upset about? Try to empathise, put yourself in his or her shoes and think about what would be useful to remedy the situation. It could be a discount on the meal, a free dessert or drink, or even just an apology and the reassurance that the problem will not reoccur.

DO figure out what can be done to prevent the incident from happening

When the problem is solved and the customer is pacified, take the time to assess the action to take to prevent the same situation from recurring. This might mean altering some processes, adding some new SOPs, or briefing your staff about some additional things to take note of. Make the effort to do this so you can avoid pain in the future!

DO NOT say it is not your fault

Shirking responsibility is a no-no. We understand that you may not have been the one who plated the dish or taken the customer’s order, but if you are the one that the customer is now complaining to – even if it is not your fault, it is now your responsibility. At very least, listen to the customer, and where it is reasonable, try to help instead of “taichi” their queries away.

DO NOT shout at the customer

An angry customer is not someone that can be reasoned with and shouting at the customer will likely only make the person angrier. Before you lose your cool, ask yourself what you hope to achieve – will raising your voice help you get there? And even if you are being harassed, can you afford to escalate the situation? If not, stay calm and consider your alternatives: wait for the customer’s anger to dissipate, or call in security or the police for some help.

DO NOT take to social media to retaliate

Your unhappy customer might go on Facebook and give you a one-star review – they might even try to air their grievances on their personal pages. You might want to defend yourself and clarify different aspects of the situation, but when you do, be careful not to be rude and get personal. This is in part to remain professional and gracious, but also because what you say online can very easily be screenshot, saved and used against you in the future.